MILWAUKEE – I knew he was in Oshkosh, so I offered to speak on the phone.
But Professor Michael Jasinski, who teaches political science at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, insisted on driving down to meet me. I’d later learn he came out of a sense of responsibility. He felt he had important information to share and in-person would go better. He’d never shared these thoughts with a journalist before.
Jasinski authored “Examining Genocides: Means, Motive, and Opportunity,” published in 2017. He’s a political scientist, more history-driven than data-driven — he looks for patterns, for historical analogies.
And what he sees is strong potential for a severe economic downturn, followed by the potential for wedding state power with anti-Semitism in America. To him, this is not science fiction. It’s a real possibility.
“I think there is at least a 50 percent chance of a severe (i.e., worse than the Great Recession) financial crisis in the next decade that will really test the fabric of the US society and the political system, which frankly is already fraying,” he wrote to me in an email, after our interview.
I admit, I have no idea what to make of this, how much stock to put in it. But Jasinski, the sort of fellow whose words tumble out of him lightning-fast, probably because his mouth can’t keep up with the speed of his mind, deserves a hearing. This is it.
Jasinski believes the structural problems that enabled the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 have not been resolved, due to a lack of political will during both the Obama and Trump presidencies. He believes a second downturn is therefore a distinct possibility.
Perhaps now would be a good time to mention he grew up in Poland, a country trounced throughout history by more powerful neighbors. “In the interest of full disclosure, I have a healthy Eastern European paranoia,” he said.
Once society breaks down, he said, “there are only two types of people – people who come for what you have or people who stole what you had.” This makes a society ripe for anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
Right now, xenophobia in America is not serious at the state level, he said.
“It’s worrisome that (some are) trying to blame U.S. problems on other actors,” he said. “Because what happens if it doesn’t work?”
Who then is to blame, once U.S. problems aren’t fixed? Do we then turn even more deeply against The Other?
Back in the 1930s the United States political system came up with the New Deal, he said. There was rising anti-Semitism in the 1920s and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt quashed it by reforming the economy, he said.
“Hitler also comes up with a new deal, but it’s a new deal for Germany. It’s the same type of crisis but a different kind of response,” he said.
In other words, the response to a severe economic downturn is not pre-ordained and it matters.
Advice for the Jewish people
Jasinski has three pieces of advice for us:
First, worry about economic policies. “At some point we have to see something that looks like a return to New Deal-like policies,” he said, “because the people on the bottom are suffering.” (In fairness, it must be noted that there are economic conservatives who would disagree with that strategy.)
Second, worry about the rule of law. “Law enforcement, federal, local and state, cannot be politicized. That’s the final line of defense. In Germany, once Hitler gets the local police forces to essentially join forces with the brown shirts, then it paves the way.” He said brown-shirts and police patrolled together.
We should worry about that even now? Things feel fine.
“Yes but it all can happen very quickly,” he said.
Three, keep Jewish institutions thriving.
If we didn’t have a network of Jewish institutions to look out for Jewish and democratic interests in America, he’d advise us to create them.
* * *